By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — Besides the two Baptist camps/conference centers being operated by the Tennessee Baptist Convention in Middle Tennessee and East Tennessee, seven Baptist associations own and operate camps/retreat centers, and a former association camp bought by a Baptist church in Tennessee, now a separate ministry, is available.
The TBC camps are Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center, Linden, and Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center, Newport. This summer Linden Valley is offering one week of youth camp, one four-day youth camp, and one week of children’s camp. Cost begins at $285 for youth camp and is $260 for the children’s camp. Carson Springs is the site of one mini-camp for children which costs $135. The TBC camps also host many church and association-directed camps, retreats, and other meetings.
Linden Valley and Carson Springs have lodges with motel-type rooms that sit on 250 acres and 150 acres respectively. Linden Valley has 40 motel-style rooms and Carson Springs has 36. Both of the conference centers can sleep a total of 400. Linden Valley has a ropes course and both have swimming pools. Linden Valley also is adjacent to a river.
The TBC camps are also used by Tennessee Baptist Adult Homes, based in Brentwood, for their two week-long Special Friends Camps for adults ages 20-80 with disabilities. The camps are mainly funded by the annual Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions of the TBC. The camps cost $295 per camper.
The seven association camps and former association camp are offering camp activities this summer in various ways and despite some struggles. The retreat center is only hosting groups. All of the camps and the retreat center are old — ranging from 66 years old. Of course, maintenance, updating, and security are issues. One camp was vandalized recently by robbers though it has a full-time caretaker who lives there.
Offering camp in 2014
All leaders of Baptist camps in Tennessee said the changing culture and competition among camps are making this ministry a challenge. As Anna Lee Wiles of Stone Baptist Association, based in Cookeville, and Ryan Potts, director of missions, Polk County Baptist Association, based in Benton, noted, all Baptist camps today compete with the LifeWay Christian Resources camps and camps offered by Baptists in other states which house students in university dorms or beach side hotels. Finally they compete with athletics and athletic camps.
Then students have so much entertainment at home, Wiles added, whose husband, Joe, is DOM. Students today just don’t want to be separated from their technology, she noted. The Wiles worked with college students through Baptist Collegiate Ministries at Tennessee Tech University for about 22 years.
Yet Tennessee Baptists at camps still see children and youth drawn away from these attractions, especially from smaller churches where families can’t afford expensive camps. At camp, students are still drawn to Jesus and make spiritual commitments that change their lives, agreed all of the camp directors.
One of the largest camps in terms of facilities and offerings is that of Knox County Baptist Association, based in Knoxville, which operates Camp Ba-Yo-Ca. The name was derived from the first two letters of Baptist Youth Camp.
Camp Ba-Yo-Ca, located in Sevierville, is offering 13 camps this summer. The camps range from traditional to specialized in that they target certain audiences. One three-day overnight camp provides for very young participants — ages 6-9. Camp Ba-Yo-Ca also is the only camp surveyed in this story which offers a 12-day camp for girls.
Other Ba-Yo-Ca camps are just for one gender or focus on an activity area such as its sports camp, water camp, and “Boys Special Ops Camp,” which features marksmanship, climbing, and adventure recreation. Another is coed and for high schoolers.
Another camp just for middle schoolers is the only Baptist camp they offer which is held in cooperation with another group or ministry. That ministry is YOKE Ministry which works with middle schoolers in East Tennessee.
Two Outreach Camps are designed for the inner city ministries of Knox County Association including its two Baptist centers in Knoxville and provide unique camp experiences for their participants, said Phil Young, new DOM of Knox County Association.
Finally the camp staff operates three day camps at the Knox County Association office.
Camps offered by Camp Ba-Yo-Ca range from $275-$300 for five-days and $200 for a four-day camp for teens but about 500 campers of the 4,000 who attended during the past year received scholarship assistance. Campers came from 66 different churches.
Also Camp Ba-Yo-Ca holds 5-8 partnership camps which are mini camps or week-long during the summer. The church only provides counselors and directs cabin time and maybe worship, explained Alan Snyder, camp director, who has been involved in Camp Ba-Yo-Ca since 1983.
The camp sits on 350 acres, sleeps 300, and includes three retreat facilities which can be rented. Camp Ba-Yo-Ca has two full-time staff members, 25 summer staff, 60 trained counselors, and has been operated by the association for 55 years. Knox Association has 155 congregations.
Young noted, “Camp Ba-Yo-Ca has a long-standing reputation for having a life-changing impact on young people from both the inner city as well as rural Appalachia. Camp not only offers young people a unique life experience, it ensures that each attendee hears the message of eternal life.”
The camp also impacts the many young adult staff and counselors who serve who are trained as leaders in ministry in training events during the year.
Finally Young mentioned that the camp’s outreach extends to the community near the camp and Knoxville. Snyder recently helped start three Harvest 1-5-1 groups. Harvest 1-5-1 is an evangelistic/discipleship initiative of the TBC.
“Camp Ba-Yo-Ca is an integral part of the Knox County network of churches working together to make an impact on this next generation,” said Young.
The Grove at Red Oak Lake
The Grove at Red Oak Lake formerly was Camp Cordova in Cordova of the Mid-South Baptist Association, based in Bartlett. Camp Cordova was established 66 years ago.
It was bought by Faith Baptist Church, Bartlett, which renovated and updated it before the camp was incorporated.
The Grove sits on 75 acres so it is not as large as other Baptist camps in Tennessee but it sleeps 400 and has a lot of summer offerings — five weeks of camps open to the public. The rest of the time the camps are directed by groups, ministries, or churches assisted by The Grove staff.
Two camps are provided by The Grove staff. Other weeks are provided by Faith Baptist, the association leading a Girls in Action camp, a local church directing a camp similar to MissionFuge, and a ministry leading a camp for refugees. Finally a camp for children and adults ages 7-35 with special needs and illnesses was provided by a couple who are members of Faith Baptist and their ministry (see story on page 9).
The camps range from $475 for the special needs camp to $200.
The Grove has five full-time and 20 part-time staff members.
Matthew Coussan, director, said he is so thankful for and proud of Faith, which draws about 1,400 to Sunday morning activities, and Danny Sinquefield, pastor, who, though aware of the struggles of camp ministry, still wanted to retain Camp Cordova. They knew that “camping is a huge part of our lifestyle as Southern Baptists,” said Coussan.
In response, The Grove is using a different model, said Coussan. The staff tailor-make camps, retreats, and other meetings and assist the ministries, churches, or groups who come, even to the point of the staff going off-site to provide block parties, operating a food truck, and/or conducting other missions work.
In other words, The Grove is operated more like a church in that people come as they are and are assisted as a part of ministry, said Coussan. We strive to accommodate all group sizes and resources, he added.
Sinquefield noted, “We are grateful to have an opportunity to provide this incredible ministry resource to our churches in the greater mid-south area. The Grove at Red Oak Lake is being used by the Lord to strengthen lives, families, ministries, and churches. Please come and visit us!”
Camp Tipton near Maryville, which is operated by Chilhowee Baptist Association, based in Alcoa, has streamlined its summer offerings to focus on outreach and ease of operation by offering all day camps — five weeks for middle schoolers and 10 weeks for children.
The camp has a full-time camp director and summer staff paid by the association as well as volunteers.
The day camps cost $90 for children and $115 for middle schoolers and specialize in rock climbing, canoeing, missions, and fun themes such as the carnival or science. Middle schoolers often are from the YOKE Ministry which works with middle schoolers in East Tennessee. Scholarships and discounts are available for needy campers. A unique feature of these day camps is that transportation is provided from two Baptist churches in Maryville and one in Alcoa.
Jim Snyder, DOM, noted Camp Tipton, provided by the association’s 80 congregations, also hosts missions teams and can sleep 70 people on its 60 acres. This year it will host five of these teams.
“We can customize our missions weeks to meet the team’s needs. We offer missions teams a variety of service opportunities with churches, community, home rehab, and resort ministries,” said Snyder. The charge is $185 – $225 a week which includes three meals per day.
Snyder noted that camps may struggle to operate but they are effective, “right up there with Vacation Bible School” in reaching unchurched students with the gospel. “I believe they (camps) are an important tool in evangelism and disciple-making.” Also at camps older students and young adults who serve in staff positions are equipped as Christian leaders, he added.
Four association camps with smaller offerings
Four association camps are offering from five to two camps this summer as well as use of their facilities to groups. They are Camp Smoky in Sevierville, Camp Cherokee in Calhoun, Camp Sandy Stone near Monterey, and Camp Agape in Benton.
Camp Smoky in Sevierville
Camp Smoky, which also is known as Camp Smoky Christian Retreat, is operated by Sevier County Baptist Association, based in Sevierville and can sleep 150 in facilities on 25 acres. It is the second largest of the four association camps considered in this section.
Camp Smoky is offering two weeks of mini day camps, a children’s camp, and a youth camp. The day camps are especially an outreach effort because they are for members of Boys and Girls Clubs, Inc. They are being led by a church in Alabama and churches in Kentucky. Those missions teams get to stay at camp for free, said Robert Nichols, DOM. They do provide their own food and cooks.
The children’s camp is being led by volunteers directed by Robin Jones of a local church and the youth camp by volunteers being directed by Donnie and Lisa Hatfield of Roaring Fork Baptist Church, Gatlinburg.
This year a special feature of the youth camp is that campers will include eight residents of a cottage of the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes, Chattanooga. Their fees are being subsidized by the association. The camps cost $130.
Nichols hopes churches from Tennessee and other states will consider manning a week of day camps next year. They can stay for free except for food. The camp also hopes groups will use the camp in other ways. The charge is $10-14 per person per night with the lowest price for missions teams. Groups inside the association can use it for $10 per person per night.
Camp Cherokee in Calhoun
Camp Cherokee in Calhoun is offering one week of day camp for youth and two weeks of day camp for children. The facility and activities are offered by McMinn-Meigs Baptist Association, based in Athens. This 25-acre camp sleeps 140 campers. Camp Cherokee also has a swimming pool unlike the other three association camps considered in this section. Costs for the day camps which include two meals are $75-90.
The camp is managed by Mike Barnard, pastor, Central Baptist Church, Athens. A caretaker lives on the property. It also is available to association churches for various events and to churches outside the association through rental.
Ray Luck, DOM, explained the camp was started over 50 years ago by then DOM Dillard Brown. Since that time “it has served the association well, ministering to hundreds of children and youth. To this day as I travel to churches in the association I am coming into contact with people who tell me of their experiences at Camp Cherokee, many of whom received Christ there.”
Camp Sandy Stone near -Monterey
Thirdly, Camp Sandy Stone will offer two weeks of camp this summer, one for girls and one for boys. The camp, owned by Stone Baptist Association, based in Cookeville, is located on 23 acres near Monterey and facilities can sleep about 90. Each scheduled camp costs $50, said Joe Wiles, DOM, and is led by local volunteers.
It is being updated, is open year round, and can be rented.
Camp Agape in Benton
Finally, Camp Agape in Benton will offer two weeks of day camps this summer. Camp Agape, operated by Polk County Baptist Association, based in Benton, is the largest of the four facilities mentioned in this section at sleeping capacity of 190 or 250 if considering its tent camping area and is located on 230 acres. Camp Agape includes a small lake for fishing and swimming.
One day camp is a Bible camp and one day camp is a Sports Skills Camp providing a half-day on football and a half-day on cheerleading. The Bible day camp costs $50 and the half-day Sports Skills Camp is $75. Missions teams from two Baptist churches are leading them.
To promote the football and cheerleading camps, 1,330 public school students received information about them, said Ryan Potts, DOM. He hopes to add soccer and volleyball day camps in the future.
Camp Agape also hopes to hold a youth camp next year (one was planned this year but had to be canceled) and begin coordinating and hosting missions teams/camps, stated Potts, adding that the charge will only be $41 a person per day and include three meals.
From four DOMs
Nichols noted that the maintenance and updating has been an issue at Camp Smoky because some of the facilities are 60 years old. The camp once was a boarding high school. The association has been blessed as several staff positions, including the camp director, have changed and savings have been available for the maintenance and renovations. For instance, a swimming pool is being repaired.
One different aspect of this association’s ministry is that if the association ever ceases to use it for a Christian camp, it will return to the family which deeded it to the association. That factor and its age may have caused Baptists here to decide the camp is not worth the effort, said Nichols. Instead, he thinks Baptists here should enjoy the savings the association has been blessed with recently and continue to use it as it has been used for 50 years by the association for God’s glory, said Nichols.
“The opportunities these 60 churches have with the millions of people who come here to visit is great. We’re already involved in resort ministry and there’s a world of possibilities related to that. The camp can be part of that … ,” he added.
Luck said McMinn-Meigs Association, which has 72 congregations, though many are small, can still comfortably operate its camp through the church’s contributions to the association and fees paid by the summer campers.
Potts and Wiles said though their camp ministries are a matter of discussion amongst leaders, for the present they are still supported by enough churches — mainly the smaller ones — and the camps help the smaller churches in their associations. Wiles works with 45 congregations and Potts with 34 congregations.
“It (camp) should do what it’s supposed to do or you should get rid of it,” said Wiles. “Currently a group of our churches like it and use it. So we’re committed to it,” he added.
Holston Baptist Association, based in Johnson City, operates its Holston Baptist Retreat Center in Rogersville, which has a lodge sleeping 60 situated on 103 acres. Also available are an amphitheater, trails, pond, and creek.
The center is available for use by groups in the association at $5 per person per weekend and $15 per person per weekend. Prices double for groups outside the association but they use it a lot.
The caretakers there assist with food preparation. The association is in the process of renovating the lodge, said Ben Proffitt, DOM.
The association holds a three-day children’s camp each summer at Camp Carson/Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center. Holston is made up of 104 congregations.
Tim Bearden, senior manager, TBC conference centers, observed, “There are a lot of good reasons for sending children to camp. They meet new friends. They spend time in God’s creation. The need a break from technology like television and video games.
“Whatever the age, camps and conference centers allow individuals the opportunity to get way from the normal activities of life and concentrate on their relations with each other and most of all with Christ.
“According to estimates, over 10 million American kids attend camp every summer. I believe that thousands of children will accept Christ this summer in Christian camps across Tennessee.”
Bearden concluded, “Linden Valley and Carson Springs will see 300 to 350 recorded professions of faith that will result in baptisms.”